by Chua Jun Yan (13A01A)
From putting together Take 5 to managing the Hodge Lodge, it is undeniable that the Student’s Council plays an integral role in the lifeblood of the college. For that, this newspaper takes its hat off to the Year 6 Councillors who leave office today and sends its best wishes to their Year 5 successors. To continue leading the way, however, the election process for the Council is in need of reform.
In effect, this year’s elections seemed to be more of a popularity contest than anything else; an instance where style prevails over substance. No doubt, this is a challenge faced in every any election, much less one in a school of 17- and 18-year-olds. In this case, however, the present electoral system could be tweaked to promote meaningful attempts at genuine discourse on real-life issues facing the student body.
First, candidates could be allowed to choose their own running mates, rather than being arbitrarily sorted into groups and forced to campaign together. Ostensibly, the purpose of the current system is to prevent the clustering of RI, RGS and Joint Admission Exercise (JAE) candidates. However, this is problematic. Nominees are compelled to work together, even if they may not necessarily share the same vision or set of beliefs. Hence, nominees cannot run on their own platforms and must compromise with their partners, leading to heavily watered-down campaigns. As such, many campaigns end up reduced to a series of humourous slogans which entertain but do not inform. Of course, no one expects concrete campaign promises, but perhaps candidates could provide an outline of what issues they care for, what their vision for the school is, and where they stand on their philosophy of leadership. Generic platitudes like “creating a fun environment” or “bonding friends” do not quite cut it. Faced with such a situation, the voter is likely to simply cast his ballot for who is more sensational or who he knows, rather than who is best for the job.
An even more awkward arrangement is the presidential election, in which the 3 candidates are running against each other, but campaign on the same platform, sharing speeches and posters. The official reason for this is to project a united front. However, the point of elections is to offer voters alternatives by differentiating candidates. Rather than avoiding head-to-head debate, our community ought to be mature enough to close ranks and resolve our differences post-election. This could help reverse the trend of the minority gender candidate winning over the past 5 years, which could be indicative that voters cast their ballots along gender lines (for instance, if there are 2 female candidates, the RGS vote would be split between them, paving the way for the male candidate to consolidate this support base from his former RI Yr 1 – 4 batchmates).
The above situation is compounded by the short campaign period given to candidates – three days for the Council nominees, and a day for the presidential and house captain candidates. Under such a tight deadline, the average student barely has time to find out about who he is voting for, and the campaigns are understandably rushed jobs. While last-minute work is a reality that councillors will have to confront, a longer campaign would do justice to the ideas and messages which the nominees have to present.
Perhaps most significantly, the questions posed by outgoing House EXCOs during house meetings need to set a more serious tone. At times, they come across as trivial or contrived, with some candidates reportedly being barraged with queries like “What food represents you” or “What animal represents this house?” Moreover, it is certainly a democratic aberration that nominees only get to deliver speeches to their own houses, despite being elected by the entire electorate. Moving election speeches to morning assembly, when the whole school is present, might do the trick. Lifting the ban on social media campaigning would also make candidates more visible to the student body. This might result in more “spam”, but as evidenced by last year’s General Election in Singapore, Facebook and Twitter is a tide that needs to be harnessed, not resisted.
Of course, none of this detracts from the work which past and present Councillors have put into making the organization a success. To live up to its hard-earned name, however, this newspaper believes that electoral reform is the way to go.